My work involves people and ideas, performance, prose, poetry, objects and archives. The beauty of such a diversity of work is that there isn’t, and never can be, an unquestioned uniformity about any of the processes or outputs; they are necessarily contextual and evolving.
I wrote separately about how places like Talawa and The Obsidian Foundation, among so many others, are about elevating art and ideas, about making ephemeral concepts whole and real, and in doing so bringing about challenges to existing structures and making concrete change.
If journalism writes the headlines which become history – then poetry is the deep dive, alive and kicking, packing emotional punch with intellectual heft; It’s the human soul speaking.
I could just as easily have been writing about drama, or literature as poetry.
The principle stands.
Art and creativity go beyond headlines
These human acts of creation speak from the human soul far better than journalism ever can. They are as worthy of historical record as journalism, precisely because they go deeper.
I should also add, that if journalism writes the headlines which become history, that’s also a stunningly solid argument for a more diverse pool of journalists.
“The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson and Other Tales
Each generation must understand what came before, and absorb that knowledge, so that it can face the future. The work of creation, but also of contextualisation, needs to be continuous.
Look at it this way. The history of a diaspora generation doesn’t necessarily reflect the lived experiences of its descendants, for example. The monolithic approach to presenting histories can limit certain identities – quite a few identities actually.
We see that tension in the Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities around us. Generations born here have markedly different experiences to their parent’s or grandparent’s generations, those who first came here. But that’s also true of indigenous people. Is the generation of today, say aged 25 to 35, identical? Of course not. So why assume it of other identities?
Life experiences create different ways of looking at the world, and different ways of making demands of it, and these are rarely monolithic, but individual, and personal.
By way of example, are those first generations say, Asian in Britain, while their descendants might be better described Asian British? Probably, for some.
We know that in order to make the future, we must understand how the past shapes the present. Sometimes that process can also be about unlearning. Or, as is increasingly being discussed, decolonising.
Why should we look to the past? Well, there’s nowhere else to look is there?
Which brings me to archives and the way we arrive at them.
If we know our history, we can start examining what they contain from various perspectives. How welcome to have the perspective of thinkers and events that were disturbed by European invasions, for example, alongside those from the same cultures’ descendants.
This is a bit like ‘play’ – we create rules, in order that we may break them. Because in so doing we create. So it is with history. We can and should explore it from diverse perspectives so that we can see it afresh, and learn from it.
The future isn’t just a blank screen on to which we project things based on assumptions or ways of seeing things as they are now.
The past has clues for us.
If we pay attention to it, it can help us dislodge those assumptions, especially the ones we are blind to, and offer new ways of seeing.
As artists and creatives we are ekstasis – we stand aside, or even outside, the status quo. That is as it should be. Because it is that separation which enables us to see things differently, perhaps even clearly.
For there to be a rebirth, or a renewal, there must be a taking stock.
Many of us have used 2020 for exactly that.
Now, we’re getting organised.
We are looking behind the headlines
Perhaps as we do, we can take inspiration from the past, from the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Jon Daniel was just one of those people.
A friend, a mentor, an incredible designer and influencer of ideas, a creative soul – Jon was all this and more. Despite his passing (in 2017) he remains an influence today.
I’ll let this filmed discussion of Jon Daniel’s work and influence take centre stage.